Finnish municipalities are once again investing in their library services, as library user numbers in Finland continue to be among the world’s highest. Over 68 million books a year are borrowed from Finland’s over 700 library branches, and recent figures show that average residents make nine library visits per year, borrowing over 16 items.
A fresh survey of library users in Finland has found that 43 percent were of the opinion that libraries improved their quality of life “very much”. Another 42 percent said it had improved their quality of life “somewhat”. This left just 15 percent who didn’t feel this way or couldn’t say one way or the other.
The poll attracted responses from 28,000 people, who gave Finland’s libraries an average grade of 8.8 on a scale of 4 to 10, in line with Finland’s comprehensive school grading system.
Legal obligation for communities to have one
Under Finland’s Library Act, every municipality must provide library services that are equally accessible to everyone. In 2015, local governments spent an average of 58 euros per resident to fund library services.
“I would also remind people that whenever municipalities commission assessments of the services they provide, libraries consistently come out as number one,” says Rauha Maarno, director of the Finnish Library Association.
Maarno says there is not one library that is facing closure in Finland this year, as far as she knows. This represents a change from the early 2000s, when many municipalities merged, resulting in the shutdown of dozens of libraries throughout the country.
“At the moment, it looks as if municipalities understand the importance of libraries. Of course, this is also down to public debate on things like declining literacy and the increasingly poor reading skills of Finnish children and youth. The role of libraries in our day and age is tremendous,” Maarno says.
Oodi is a high-profile example
It seems as if Finland’s appreciation for libraries is once again at a high, as a May 2018 article from the UK newspaper The Guardian points out.
“At a time when libraries worldwide are facing budget cuts, a decline in users and closure, Finland is bucking the trend. […] While more than 478 libraries have closed in cities and towns across England, Wales and Scotland since 2010, Helsinki is spending 98 million euros creating an enormous new one,” the paper writes.
The paper refers to the new Helsinki Central Library, called Oodi, being built in the city centre between the Central Railway Station and the Parliament Building. If all goes according to plan, the touted “public living room in the heart of Helsinki” will open to the public in December of this year.
“Brand new library buildings aren’t popping up every day, but I have the impression that many municipalities are investing in their library facilities. Oftentimes, there are efforts to combine them with other services. It is very handy for municipal residents when services are connected physically,” Maarno says.
She cites recent building projects to create properties with larger service entities in the cities of Espoo and Tampere, where libraries are located next door to maternity clinics, for example.
Not just for borrowing books anymore
Libraries in Finland are changing with the times, as they are in other countries. Oodi will feature workshops for crafting or sewing, meeting and event rooms, music studios, computer rooms, game and VR facilities, and a restaurant and cafe.
Over half of the respondents to the recent survey said that Finland’s libraries were responsible for making them read more, and almost a fifth said that the libraries had helped them to improve their IT skills.
Twenty percent of the residents of Finland participating in the poll said that using libraries had also helped them have more contact with other people.